The 5 Dos and Don’ts of To-Do List Management

Many people flounder with their to-do list management because they don't follow these dos and don'ts.


I ❤️ To-Dos

An even more monumental shift in my life than saying “I do” to Kim (or to the officiant, I suppose) was declaring “I to-do” (to myself, in my head).

No exaggeration.

No offense to Kim, either.

Creating and managing to-lists has become a life-changing practice that I’m committed to continuing till death do I part.

I wish everyone could be so fortunate.

Sadly, I’ve seen many people close to me, even Kim, struggle through and ultimately divorce themselves from rocky relationships with to-do lists.


I think they’re managing their to-lists wrong.

Here are some quick tips for finding long-lasting love. Like any to-do list worth committing to, it’s short and manageable—and may even give you something to look forward to.

Do focus more on done than to-do.

Before getting into bed with any to-do list system, I challenge you to maintain a done list.

For one day, keep an ongoing log of everything you do. No judgment. Just objective journaling. And keep it super concise

My example from today:

  • Woke up
  • Played with Zac
  • Published post on Why Now Is The Time to Push Yourself
  • Leg workout
  • Emails
  • Walked home thinking of next post
  • Made lunch
  • Started draft of To-Do List Dos and Don’ts

If you want to go wild, add time stamps when you conclude each activity. For example:

  • 06:00 Woke up
  • 08:35 Played with Zac
  • 10:44 Published post on Why Now Is The Time to Push Yourself
  • 12:57 Leg workout
  • 15:00 Emails
  • 16:25 Walked home thinking of next post
  • 16:50 Made lunch
  • 18:07 Started draft of To-Do List Dos and Don’ts

This means I got home at 4:25 PM, then spent 25 minutes making and eating lunch. And yes, I ate lunch that late. My intermittent fasting follows the true definition of intermittent.

Once you’ve done a done list for one day, do it for six more. Then, at the end of the week, review:

  • How could my week have gone better?
  • What am I glad I did that I want to do more of?
  • What would I do differently if I could do it again?

I bet you will feel compelled to come up with a few to-do list items to have a slightly less disappointing done list next week. Not because you feel you have to. Because you want to.

Don’t let your to-do list become your boss.

It’s easy to get stressed out by your demanding to-do list. So you start resenting it and complaining about it. And that spells doom for your working relationship.

For a more positive perspective, reframe your to-do list as your personal assistant.

Your to-do list exists not to boss you around but to support you! Notably, it relieves your brain of the administrative headache of remembering your responsibilities.

Your to-do list can help you with other things, too. You can:

  • Vent to it without it ever talking back (aka journaling).
  • Brainstorm with it.
  • Have it remember people’s names, allergies, and birthdays.

It’s up to you! It doesn’t manage you; you manage it.

That’s not to say your to-do list won’t make you feel guilty for doing doo-doo all day. But that’s a good thing. “Feeling is for doing.”

And if you compile a solid done list and still feel your to-do list nagging you, don’t blame it. Blame yourself for being a crappy manager.

Don’t give yourself dreadful to-dos.

This tip applies to the tasks on your to-do list that you know you will procrastinate on.

For me, such to-dos tend to relate to my personal life. One example:

  • Plan a weeklong trip to the Drakensberg.

For some deranged reason, I have an easier time getting myself to write what you’re reading now than to plan such an adventure. So I put off planning while all the while dreading having to do it eventually.

What to do about this?

Break the to-do down into something less dreadful. Something like:

  • Go on Google Flights to check if it’s cheaper to fly to Durban or Johannesburg.

Or if that still feels too overwhelmingly procrastination-inducing, I could make an even easier to-do:

  • Come up with some tiny to-dos for planning the Drakensberg trip.

You’ve no doubt heard this before, but I’ll repeat it because it seems you weren’t listening:

Getting yourself to do stuff you don’t want to do but will be glad you did is all about using small victory dopamine boosts to build momentum.

Do disregard every single productivity guru’s system.

How somebody else manages their to-dos is like how they style their hair. It may look super sexy and stylish on them, but it’s highly unlikely to suit you just as well. This is especially the case with the elaborate systems productivity gurus like to show off and sell you templates for.

You’re starting off bald, anyway!

Or, if your existing to-do list system’s a tangled mess, shave it off and start fresh.

Grow in your to-do system from the roots. Your little stubbles don’t need styling. They just need to exist. Then, as your system grows out, you can evolve into a style that works for you.

Do work toward doing away with to-do lists entirely.

A perpetually perfect life doesn’t need to-dos because you want to do everything you do and have a system that gets it done without needing reminders.

My fitness lifestyle is a real-life example. My system’s on “auto-pilot,” but I’m climbing, not coasting, because I enjoy challenging myself to feel physically better and better just about every day.

Is it a pipe dream to have the same in all other areas of my life: work, relationships, finances, adventures, etcetera?

I dunno, but that’s the direction I’m working towards. One thing is for sure: I will get closer to realizing this perpetually perfect life thanks to how I manage my to-do lists.

That’s why I love them.

And I hope these to-do list tips will help you feel the same someday soon.

Recap: Your To-Do List for Better To-Dos

  • Focus more on done than to-do.
  • Frame your to-do list as your personal assistant, not your boss.
  • Break them down until they’re un-dreadfully small.
  • Create your own system from scratch rather than copy some guru’s Notion template.
  • Work toward a system you love so much you don’t need to-do list reminders.

And for more of my best tips for getting what really matters done, add these to your to-do list:

Free Wake-Up Call

Take the 20-question "Comfort Zone Assessment" to find out in just 3.5 minutes:

Where are you complacent?

Which area of your life most needs a push?

How to get started?

It's gimmicky and unscientific, but also quick, fun, and revealing.

Be Uncomplacent

PS: Surprise personalized accountability challenge afterward.

About the author

I'm Chris. Canadian, husband, dad, writer, investor, athlete, and obsessed explorer of the secrets to living a never-boring, always improving, unfollowable life story.

Leave a Comment

Latest Articles

Slide Some Excitement Into Your Inbox

Join me and 5,000 others for a weekly dose of uncomplacent, unconventional inspiration for enjoying life on your own terms.